For years, the gold standard of Christian evangelism seems to have been, "How many persons have you brought into the church?" How many have you invited to Easter Sunday, or any Sunday, for that matter? How many have given us their name and address and more importantly, money, because of you? When was the last time you invited someone to a church event with you?
If we're being honest, I don't love it.
I was thinking about this last week after receiving a message from a friend - something along the lines of, "I gave up on religion a long time ago because I was tired of getting burned, but I swear - you give me hope." And I confess that the first thought I had was, "How can I connect this friend with a Christian community who has the kind of hope that I do? How can I get her back into the fold so that she can see that this is what the Christian life is supposed to look like?"
I realized pretty quickly that...I can't.
I realized that this is someone that I would not invite to church. This is someone to whom I would not recommend a church. This is someone whose heart is so open to the Gospel that I wouldn't dare ruin it by trying to draw (or drag) her into a church.
Not right now.
On the surface, that sounds harsh. That sounds anti-church. That sounds anti-Christian. After all, God told us Himself that the church was the plan for our one anothering, and the New Testament tells us plainly not to neglect meeting together. The ultimate goal of the Christian faith, as so many of us have been taught it, is church membership. (That is actually not the ultimate goal of the Christian faith as God describes it, but it's how we have settled on it in the past few generations.)
At the very least, it sounds contradictory to the things that I have said even in this space - that "spiritual but not religious" is not a Christian option, that we ought to be members of a congregation, that we ought to commit ourselves to that congregation faithfully because it's about the people, not the programs. And I stand by all of this. I still believe these things to be true.
But when we are dealing with the spiritually wounded, church is not the immediate answer. Our evangelistic program that says that we get persons in the door, then disciple them is not the best plan of action. When we have someone like my friend, whose mind is closed to religion but whose heart is open to hope, the worst thing we can do is try to throw them back into a congregational fold as the method of accessing that hope for them. The worst thing we can tell them is that the church is the only way to tap into Jesus (which, by the way, is not a biblical teaching, either).
I found myself thinking of Christian plug-ins for my friend, of ways that I could connect her more deeply to that hope. But the more I thought, the more I realized about the nature of faith and the church and doubt and hope and a thousand other things. So we're going to talk about some of those here in this space because I think they're important for all of us, for the way that we're loving Jesus, loving each other, loving the church, and doing evangelism.